Like many great Holocaust films, Arnon Goldfinger’s “The Flat” starts with a simple object: a Nazi newspaper, found in the Tel Aviv apartment of the director’s grandmother after her death at 98. The discovery promises plenty of surprises, but while the pic is peppered with revelations, some of them shocking, about Goldfinger’s grandparents and their long-standing relationship with a high-ranking SS propaganda minister and his wife, it’s the helmer’s relationship with his denial-cloaked mother, Hannah, that increasingly takes centerstage. This fascinating docu should easily attract crossover auds, and merits arthouse exposure.
The film begins with a treasure hunt, as relatives search Gerda Tuchler’s apartment for worthwhile booty, with Goldfinger on hand to make sure no letters or historically meaningful objects are discarded. Despite his grandmother’s 75 years in Israel, she had never learned Hebrew, and she and her husband, Kurt, had often traveled back to the fatherland after the war; her apartment remains full of German books and artifacts.
Goldfinger discovers a rabid Nazi propaganda newspaper, Der Angriff, containing an article titled “A Nazi in Palestina,” with pictures of the author, Baron von Mildenstein, and his wife cozily accompanied by the Tuchlers. The find sends Goldfinger off on a voyage that eventually leads him to Wuppertal, Germany, where he meets von Mildenstein’s daughter, Edda, who has cocooned herself in her own form of denial about her father’s past.
Goldfinger’s research — which includes Eichmann’s trial testimony, in which he cited von Mildenstein as his predecessor under Goebbels in anti-Jewish propaganda campaigns — paints an unsavory portrait. Goldfinger feels constrained to silence vis-a-vis his German hosts, given the friendly acceptance he is accorded, but he returns to Israel with his reluctant mother to reopen the can of worms. There, he uncovers a number of disturbing facts regarding the fate of Gerda’s mother, raising questions that have no answers.
Hannah’s total lack of curiosity about the subject is extraordinary, and in many ways, “The Flat” concerns different generations’ reactions to the Holocaust. Von Mildenstein’s daughter has found society-enabled means of rewriting history, but Goldfinger cannot understand his mother’s complete disinterest in the past and longtime refusal to ask questions, any more than she can comprehend her son’s passionate interest in every buried family secret. Their shared visit to Edda in Wuppertal builds a fragile bridge as wistful as it is tentative.